The Mental Health Benefits of High Concentration Sports

Mental health is being talked about a lot in the media at the moment. Celebrity confessions about their hidden mental health problems, or pressure groups highlighting the lack of funding given to this growing health problem.
What’s the cause? Are mental health issues just a byproduct of our modern lives?
Here are a few stats on psychological problems from a survey by YouGov
More than a quarter of students (27%) report having a mental health problem of one type or another.
Female students are more likely to say they have mental health problems than males (34% vs 19%), and LGBT students have a particularly high likelihood of mental health problems compared to their heterosexual counterparts (45% vs 22%).
Of those who suffer from mental health issues, 77% have depression-related problems, and 74% have anxiety related problems.
63% of students say that they feel levels of stress that interfere with their day to day lives.
You can read the full survey results here


How high concentration sports can help

What can individuals do to help themselves?
Physical activity and sport have a huge part to play in promoting and sustaining good health. Not just for the evident physical health benefits, but for the well documented effect that physical activity can have on the mind.
When we exercise, the brain releases certain chemicals which can help with mood and alleviate issues such as anxiety and depression.
Collective sport, where we engage with other people, also promotes our mental health as it offers interaction with others – fundamental for a healthy mind and outlook.
High concentration sports are a great elixir for those struggling with mental health issues.
The demand for concentration varies with the sport and is divided into three types:

  • Sustained concentration – relevant to sports such as long distance running
  • Short burst concentration – evident in golf and cricket
  • Intense concentration – used in sports like sprinting, target archery, darts

Anger or depression affect the ability to concentrate.
Success in high concentration sports requires learning techniques to concentrate intensely for short periods of time. These sports train the brain to concentrate on the here and now, to ignore negative self-talk and doubt by utilising positive self-talk, removing unhelpful thoughts & emotions and putting them to one side for a defined period of time.
From this it is easy to understand why these techniques, used by successful athletes in high concentration sports, can have a positive effect on almost anyone.



Let’s take Archery 🏹 as an example

Archery as a target sport requires high levels of concentration.
Archery requires intense short-burst concentration through the shot cycle. From picking a target and nocking an arrow to raising, drawing, aiming and release. The participant needs to intently concentrate on all aspects to achieve good form. This is necessary to create a repeatable process that leads to consistent aim and good shot groupings. The practice of good shooting is a mindful one.
That process of concentration throughout the shot is one where the mind is encouraged to blank out all negative thoughts and focus solely on itself. Correct placement of your fingers on the string, the touch of your hand to your face when you anchor the shot, the push and pull in your arms, slow and steady breathing, and tension in your back throughout the release. All of this is only possible when the mind is fully in the moment.
Mindfulness is a heightened state of self-awareness, a way of slowing down the moment and focusing only on that point in time, developing deep levels of consciousness of how the body feels, rather than by being solely driven by the constant jumble of thoughts and emotions in our heads.
Becoming more aware of immediate physical sensations and our environment allows us to understand and process our mental traffic. It’s not about changing it, but more the ability to disassociate ourselves from it and see it for what it is, which is something that does not need to govern and define our lives.


How you benefit

High levels of focus and concentration give rise to these faculties and emotions:

  • Focus and concentration – mindfulness
  • Motivation
  • Self-efficacy
  • Patience

This can lead onto the following positive lifestyle developments:

  • A lessening of anxiety
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduced levels of stress and depression
  • Sharpening mind and mental faculties, including memory
  • Increasing brain capacity and power, including problem solving skills

And it isn’t just the above.
There are other indirect benefits that come from concentrated sports like archery:

  • Co-operation, teamwork and leadership skills
  • Improved social skills through changes in brain function due to mental training and focus
  • New experiences and friendships
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Relaxation
  • Fun and enjoyment
  • Healthy competition



More than just the mind

It is possible for the young, the old, and the less physically able to participate at the archery range. But does target archery offer any physical benefit?
Well yes it does.  Target shooting at modest ranges with medium power bows isn’t as physical as a gym session. But you may be surprised to learn that an average female can burn up to 144 calories an hour doing just that at an archery range.
That’s not to mention these other physical benefits:

  • The development of upper body strength
  • Hand co-ordination and control
  • Balance
  • Flexibility
  • Core strength


Archery isn’t the only sport with these benefits. There are other less popular ranged sports like clay pigeon shooting and even pub sports like darts with similar benefits.
Don’t always look to the main sports pages when you’re seeking out a new passion to help yourself or others live a better and more fulfilled life.
We’ve loads of useful resources on this and other target sports over at our site Target Crazy. Take a look!

Dave Pedley is a guest writer from Target Crazy – A resource for news, tips, guides and information relating to any and all target shooting sports.



For more on mental health:

Grad Bites: Introducing… CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)
Grad Bites: Dealing with Stress – Mindfulness
Don’t Feel Bad for Feeling Bad